Are you someone who tends to keep yourself super busy most of the time?
Did you know that staying busy most of the time can be an unconscious strategy to prevent us from feeling the more difficult feelings we are experiencing in our lives?
Curious to learn more? It’s called, over-functioning.
My own personal pattern when I get stressed is to over-function.
In a recent blog post, I talked about how the biggest obstacle to being in the present is being stuck thinking about the past or the future.
Keeping ourselves occupied and being constantly in our heads trying to remember everything that needs to be done, or planning for upcoming tasks is one way of over-functioning.
I should know. It’s been a specialty of mine for many years.
After reading this previous blog post, someone asked me how to be more in the present without forgetting all of the things that are constantly whirling through our brains.
You know what I mean, right? The lists of things that you don’t want to forget to do. So you just rehearse them in your head over and over.
How do we bring our attention back to the present moment without forgetting these things altogether?
It’s a valid concern. It’s one that had me resisting giving up my own over-functioning ways for years.
Instead of talking strategies, let’s explore why this is a concern.
The question brought me back to an experience that I’d had a couple of years ago during a business trip for a consulting client. The client and I had discussed the work to be completed prior to my visit – who would be at the meeting, expected outcome measures, etc.
Unfortunately, due to a series of unpredictable events within the organization that were reminiscent of a Seinfeld episode, very little of what had been scheduled actually took place. Nobody who I was supposed to meet ended up being available. Not one single person.
I did the very best I could to adapt and to provide value where I was able, despite these challenges. But at the end of the week, I felt that I hadn’t accomplished a lot. There was no question that I hadn’t attained the outcome measures that the client and I had outlined prior to my arrival.
The organization was thrilled with how I was able to roll with the punches in a difficult situation. They shared nothing but praise.
They paid me the exact same amount that I would have been paid had the week gone as planned.
No one pointed fingers or was the slightest bit upset.
And yet… I came home cranky and irritable.
As I reflected on this, I could not quite pinpoint why I was in such a bad mood.
I’d had time to work out every single day and had found time to do long meditations each day. I’d had more downtime than I can usually get in a week.
The client wasn’t upset with me, so that wasn’t on my mind.
I just couldn’t figure out why I felt so irritated.
And suddenly, it hit me…
My sense of identity was tied to my productivity.
I’d already done a lot of work in this area and let this go quite a bit.
But apparently, not quite enough.
This experience was another wake-up call that I really needed to look at why my sense of self-worth was so threatened when my productivity was not super high.
Have you ever stopped to reflect on what drives your own productivity?
Is it rooted in fear? Or in conscious choice?
It’s an important question to ask yourself because there’s a HUGE difference between the two.
My choice was clear. I could either challenge this self-concept where I saw my value as an individual as being tied to my productivity. Or I could continue to feel like a hamster on a never-ending wheel.
Needing to be productive to feel worthy goes hand in hand with keeping yourself constantly busy. And by definition, this gets in the way of being able to be present.
Had I been able to be more in the present that week, with acceptance, instead of judgment, I would have been better equipped to roll through that unproductive week with my feelings of self-worth intact.
So, what are you going to do about your to do list?
If you’ve identified with any of this and are looking for ways to be more in the present without worrying about what might be forgotten or not accomplished, here are a few things I’d suggest:
1. Ask yourself the deeper questions.
Why is your sense of well-being or your sense of worthiness linked to your productivity? This is a hard question, but one that is worth exploring. Try to catch yourself when you notice yourself evaluating yourself based on your productivity. Awareness is the first step.
2. Give yourself some self-compassion.
Speak to yourself the way that you would speak to a friend. For instance, you might remind yourself “I’m good enough even when I don’t get finish what I had expected.” Remind yourself that you are enough. Kristin Neff has done a lot of work on and has many resources on self-compassion that I highly recommend.
3. Be in the moment.
I’ve personally done a lot of work to be more in the present and have worked with teams to help them also attain a heightened state of presence.
In terms of striving to be more in the present, but worrying that you may forget your to-do – what I can tell is that yes, some things may slip. However, my experience has been that those things that do slip tend to be the things that were never actually the most important things to us. For me, being more in the present has become a natural way of selecting which tasks in my life truly need to be done versus which ones are simply busy work.
I challenge you to give it a try. When you find yourself worrying about things that need to be done, take a deep breath and without judgment, bring your attention back to the present moment.
You just might find that the less you think of your to-do lists, the less stressed you become, no matter how big your list.
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